When Chicago Archbishop Cardinal Francis George recently compared the LGBT community to the Ku Klux Klan he probably thought that there would be limited push back against his offensive remarks. Instead, his ugly smear was immediately met head-on with outrage and disgust. The way in which the LGBT community rapidly responded is a textbook example of successful advocacy and should be used as a model of how the movement takes on its opponents.
Windy City Times editor Tracy Baim got the ball rolling in a scathing editorial: “In comparing the LGBT community to the Ku Klux Klan-in his remarks about the potential disruption and inconvenience of the new Pride Parade route and start time-Cardinal George has gone too far, and he should graciously apologize, and step down from his post.”
My organization, Truth Wins Out, started a Change.org petition calling for George’s resignation that has been signed by more than 5,300 people. We helped keep the controversy alive during the holidays with a full-page Chicago Tribune ad headlined, “Hey, Cardinal Francis George, Gay is not Like the KKK.”
The Chicago Tribune editorial page called the comparison to the KKK a “bizarre analogy.” Robert McClory blogged at The National Catholic Reporter: “If he sees this latest broadside as an effective argument, he has badly missed the mark. Critics have suggested that George’s rash comments do more to spread anti-Catholicism than do the pronouncements of those who do hate the church.”
Chicago Sun-Times columnist Esther Cepeda body slammed the Chicago Archbishop: “George expressed an opinion that reinforces one of the many reasons Catholics leave the church. One out of every 10 Americans is an ex-Catholic – like me – and if they didn’t run away screaming because of the Church’s stance on abortion, birth control, divorce or the inadequate prosecution of priests who have sexually abused children, it’s because of its attitudes toward women and sexual orientation.”
George’s primary defenders were the Illinois Family Institute and the Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, both deemed hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Even troglodyte William Donahue of the Catholic League has so far not pounced on this issue, preferring to spend his time defending the Vatican’s handling of pedophile priest cases.
The juxtaposition of the Ku Klux Klan and law abiding LGBT citizens was simply too great a mental leap for all but the most ardent gay bashers. It would be nice if George apologized or stepped down, however if he does neither, the Cardinal has still lost the battle of public opinion. To mainstream Americans, including Catholics, he appears alarmist and extreme. His intransigence has only further tarnished his legacy and damaged the image of the Roman Catholic Church.
George can still escape from his self-inflicted bind if the LGBT community overplays its hand. This issue exploded after George went on Fox News Chicago and said that the gay-rights movement was at risk of morphing “into something like the Ku Klux Klan, protesting in the streets against Catholicism.”
On the cusp of victory, Chicago LGBT activist Lair Scott called for – you guessed it – a protest in the streets of Chicago against the Catholic Church. The demonstration will occur during Sunday mass at the seat of the Chicago Archdiocese. Lair is best known for his controversial Change.org petition demanding that PBS, “Let Bert and Ernie Get Married On Sesame Street.”
The Gay Liberation Network and the Rainbow Sash Movement, an organization of LGBT Catholics, have backed this protest, which has all the makings of a potential PR disaster. If the controversy switches from a debate over George’s KKK remarks to a FOX-fueled media frenzy about Bert and Ernie our message has been lost. If the protest becomes unruly, disrespectful, blatantly anti-religious, or if mass is disrupted the support of the sympathetic middle that believes George went too far will evaporate.
I’m not necessarily against a demonstration if it will keep the issue alive. However, let’s be honest and acknowledge that it is a risky venture that must be carefully planned and exquisitely executed or it could horribly backfire. Do we really want to hand FOX News and the Vatican a gift on a silver platter?
In the past, the Gay Liberation Network has organized important demonstrations in Chicago. Indeed, I worked with them on a successful protest against the Radio Hall of Fame when it inducted Focus on the Family’s James Dobson. They are good people who care very much about the LGBT community. Rainbow Sash also appears to have our best interests in mind.
I am sure that both organizations comprehend the gravity of this situation and understand the global ramifications if events spin out of control. While Cardinal George is fully responsible for sacrificing himself at the altar of idiocy, poor choices by the LGBT community could sadly lead to his unlikely resurrection.
Wayne Besen is a columnist and author of the book “Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth.”